Joe Biden has signed his flagship $1.2tn bipartisan infrastructure bill into law in a big legislative victory for the US president at a time when his approval ratings have hit an all-time low.
At an event at the White House on Monday, Biden said that the passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would change Americans’ lives “for the better”.
The signing ceremony came just days after the bill — which includes about $550bn in new spending on roads, bridges and tunnels, as well as airports, broadband and other infrastructure improvements — was approved by the US House of Representatives.
“For too long, we’ve talked about having the best economy in the world. We’ve talked about asserting American leadership in the world with the best and safest roads, railways, ports, and airports,” Biden said in a speech ahead of the signing, in a veiled jab at his predecessor Donald Trump, who repeatedly promised an “infrastructure week” but was unable to push through big infrastructure investments.
“But today, we are finally getting it done. And my message to the American people is: America is moving again. And your life is going to change for the better,” he added.
The president was flanked by the two senators who were architects of the compromise legislation — Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio — as well as vice-president Kamala Harris and Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer as he signed the law.
Nineteen Republican senators and 13 Republican House members backed the legislation, in a rare display of bipartisanship in a sharply divided Washington.
“I ran for president because the only way to move our country forward is through compromise and consensus,” said Biden, a longtime senator before he served as Barack Obama’s vice-president. “That’s how our system works. That’s American democracy. And I am signing a law that is truly consequential, because we made our democracy deliver for the people.”
Biden on Tuesday will travel to several crucial swing states to sell the infrastructure bill to the American public, with one eye on next year’s midterms, when control of both houses of Congress will be up for grabs. Democrats are increasingly wary of their electoral chances after disappointing performances in statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey earlier this month.
At the same time, Biden’s nationwide approval rating continues to slide as more Americans express discontent over rising consumer prices and the lingering Covid-19 pandemic. A Washington Post-ABC News poll published at the weekend showed that just 41 per cent of American adults approved of Biden’s presidency. An even smaller share — 39 per cent — said they approved of the president’s handling of the economy.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, lawmakers in Biden’s own party will this week continue their wrangling over the president’s second and larger flagship proposal: a $1.75tn “Build Back Better” bill that would make sweeping investments in early childhood education, public healthcare and measures to combat climate change. That package, which is opposed by Republicans, has been held up by months of disagreement between progressives and moderates within the Democratic party.
A handful of moderate Democrats in the House are withholding support for the bill until an independent cost assessment is conducted by the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO said on Monday that it expected to publish its estimates by the end of the working week.
Graphic by Caitlin Gilbert